◎ We offer seven points of response to an open letter on U.S. policy on China by a hundred U.S. scholars, former diplomats and military officials, and business leaders.
By Don Tse, Chu-cheng Ming, and Larry Ong
Over a hundred mostly American scholars, former diplomats and military officials, and business leaders want United States President Donald Trump to rethink U.S. policy towards China that could hurt American and global interests, according to an open letter addressed to Trump and members of Congress.
The letter, “China is not an enemy,” is co-authored by former US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs Susan Thornton, former U.S. ambassador to China J Stapleton Roy, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace senior fellow Michael D. Swaine, MIT political science professor M. Taylor Fravel, and Harvard professor emeritus Ezra Vogel. An earlier version of the letter on the Post was titled, “Making China a U.S. enemy is counterproductive.” The letter makes seven propositions on “the problems in the U.S. approach to China and the basic elements of a more effective U.S. policy.”
We concur that China is not the enemy. But the same cannot be said of the Chinese Communist Party, whose subversive behavior since the “normalization” of Sino-U.S. relations four decades ago is clear evidence that it will, if left unchecked, establish the twenty-first century’s “evil empire.” And contrary to being “fundamentally counterproductive,” the Trump administration’s targeted actions against the Chinese communist regime have effectively curbed and even rolled back the CCP’s steady erosion of the global order.
We are veteran China watchers who have long researched the CCP and have lived experiences inside China. We offer seven points of response to the open letter.
1. The open letter makes zero mention of the Communist Party and does not distinguish between China and the Chinese communist regime. This is not a matter of semantics, but arguably the most important distinction to make concerning U.S. policy on China. As Confucius observed, “If names cannot be correct, then language is not in accordance with the truth of things. And if language is not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success” (名不正，則言不順；言不順，則事不成).
The CCP clings to the Marxist-Leninist ideology and does not represent the Chinese civilization and people. Authentic Chinese culture, which is based on traditional and universal values, is receptive to freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. This is evident from the recent peaceful million-strong protest marches in Hong Kong and the holding of democratic elections in Taiwan. Taiwan and Hong Kong have largely preserved traditional Chinese culture by virtue of not being taken over by the CCP in 1949. In contrast, the CCP promotes a culture of struggle, deception, corruption, and authoritarianism in China, and even exports its malign values abroad. We believe that the central “clash of civilizations” today is not between China and the West, but between the CCP and China’s 5,000-year-old civilization.
The Trump administration is conscious of China-CCP difference and has taken pains to draw the distinction in public statements. This is clear from Vice President Mike Pence’s October 2018 speech on China where he recalls the friendly Sino-U.S. relations before the founding of the People’s Republic of China and criticizes the Chinese communist regime’s problematic behavior and activities. The “Chinese Communist Party is rewarding or coercing American businesses, movie studios, universities, think tanks, scholars, journalists, and local, state, and federal officials,” Pence said in one of many examples of the CCP’s pernicious behavior.
Not distinguishing between China and the CCP feeds into the Communist Party strategy of deliberately conflating the two concepts to devise more effective propaganda and influence operations. The Confucius Institutes are a prime example of how the CCP uses traditional Chinese culture as a Trojan Horse for its external influence activities. The CCP has also found it useful to speak on behalf of all Chinese people and claim that “the Chinese people’s feelings have been hurt” when it is accused of wrongdoing. Playing the race card allows the Communist Party to deflect attention from itself and deter foreign governments who wish to stay “politically correct” from pressing the Chinese communist regime to cease its malicious actions.
It is unclear if the co-authors of the open letter are familiar with the differences between China and the CCP. It is also unclear if the co-authors are aware of the Communist Party’s strategy to blur the China-CCP distinction to its advantage. Regardless, the CCP feels comfortable enough to promote the open letter. China foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said that he supports the “rational and objective voices and opinions” in the letter and believes that “objective, rational, accommodating voices will win over those prejudiced, fanatical, zero-sum positions.” State and Party media outlets, including the Global Times, China Daily, China News Service, and CCTV’s “Xinwen Lianbo,” have also praised the letter for showing “rationality.” We believe that the CCP would unlikely publicize the open letter and speak about it in positive terms had the co-authors written “Chinese Communist Party” or “Chinese communist regime” in the place of “China.”
The open letter said that a successful U.S. approach to China must be based on a “realistic appraisal of Chinese perceptions, interests, goals and behavior.” To come up with a realistic appraisal, the co-authors must first distinguish between China and the Chinese Communist Party for if “language is not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.”
2. The open letter does not believe that “China is a monolith, or the views of its leaders set in stone.” The letter also believes that “U.S. actions can strengthen those Chinese leaders who want China to play a constructive role in world affairs.”
As a leading authority in the field of CCP factional politics, we concur that the Chinese communist regime is by no means a political monolith and neither are the views of its leaders unchangeable. However, we find the view that the U.S. can “strengthen” the CCP cadres who want the regime to “play a constructive role in world affairs” to be starry-eyed.
By virtue of its Marxist-Leninist ideology, the CCP’s ultimate goal is world domination. And as long as the CCP is in power, it will keep working towards that goal. Reform-minded CCP cadres or Party bosses are a threat to regime survival and tend not to stay in power for long. Even if reform-minded cadres should gain paramount authority and staying power, they might not be so inclined to carry out reforms that will weaken the Communist Party and their authority. Hence, we believe that it is virtually impossible for CCP leaders to change the Communist Party and the regime from within, and it would be folly of America to pursue such a strategy.
The U.S., however, can create an environment that allows reform-minded leaders to abandon the Communist Party without jeopardizing their authority. This can be achieved through the Trump administration’s current China strategies plus novel solutions to nullify CCP accusations of a “clash of civilizations” and avoid global economic upheaval. A stable, post-communist China will be more receptive to liberal reforms and the Sino-U.S. relationship will become a fair, friendly, and prosperous one for the foreseeable future. Based on our research into CCP factional politics, we believe that a window of opportunity is now open for the successful implementation of this strategy.
3. The open letter advocates that the U.S. work with its allies and partners to:
- “Create a more open and prosperous world in which China is offered the opportunity to participate”;
- “Maintain deterrence, emphasizing defensive-oriented, area denial capabilities, resiliency and the ability to frustrate attacks on U.S. or allied territory”;
- Forge “enduring coalitions with other countries in support of economic and security objectives” with regard to China;
- Avoid weakening relations with allies and isolating Washington instead of Beijing.
In other words, the letter encourages the Trump administration to continue with the same “engagement” strategy that America has been using since the “normalization” of relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1979. The engagement strategy has not shifted CCP behavior over the past four decades towards a more liberal direction. If anything, the Chinese communist regime is stepping up ideological indoctrination and persecution at home, as well as economic and military expansionism abroad. It is unclear how continuing to accommodate the CCP will help the U.S. and the world deal with an authoritarian regime that has global domination on its agenda.
We concur that the U.S. should work with its allies and partners on China. But we are not opposed to America taking unilateral action when necessary. As the world’s sole superpower, the U.S. has the strength to act unilaterally against the Chinese communist regime and effectively compel it to change its behavior. This has been fully demonstrated in the unfolding trade and tech war. In fact, the success of strong unilateral American action against the Chinese communist regime may have encouraged U.S. allies, partners, and other nations to increasingly stand up to the CCP and its bullying. We believe that international support for the U.S. will only grow if it holds a tough line against the Chinese communist regime.
The flexibility which unilateralism offers the U.S. is necessary for countering the CCP, a highly dangerous entity that will do anything it takes to survive and dominate. It is not beyond the CCP to try fracturing U.S. alliances through diplomacy while tapping into its “Red Matrix” to popularize and forge a global “consensus” on the importance of using alliances to counter China. Also, those with knowledge of the CCP’s revolutionary history will have deep reservations about its promotion of “multilateralism.” During the Chinese civil war, the CCP took advantage of two “united fronts” with the Kuomintang to avoid being attacked, grow in strength, and eventually launch a communist takeover of China. If unchecked, the CCP will definitely exploit greater opportunities to participate in an “open and prosperous world” to reshape the current global order in its image.
4. The open letter posits that Beijing is not an “economic enemy or an existential national security threat that must be confronted in every sphere.” Also, the “fear that Beijing will replace the United States as the global leader is exaggerated” and “it is not clear that Beijing itself sees this goal as necessary or feasible.”
We touched on the CCP’s highly dangerous nature in the previous point. For the U.S. to not treat the CCP as an existential threat and confront the regime in every sphere is sheer irresponsibility. Even if we presume that the Chinese communist regime is not strong enough to seriously challenge the U.S. at present (we do not believe this to be the case), it will almost certainly become strong enough within a matter of years if allowed to act as it did for the past four decades. It is naive to think that the CCP will not accelerate its military buildup and pursue global hegemony should it overtake America as the world’s number one economy. And the Chinese communist regime may not even need military force to dominate the globe if it controls leading technology companies in a highly connected world. Already, U.S. tech giants like Google and Facebook are trying to break into the mainland market by creating censor-friendly products. Should these companies enter China, they will be required by law to establish Communist Party cells and thus come under the CCP’s sway.
Survival and domination are two sides of the same coin for the CCP. Fears that the Chinese communist regime will replace the U.S. as the global leader are not exaggerated. The CCP is very clear about its hegemonic ambitions in its 19th Party Congress report. According to the report, the regime plans to become a “global leader in terms of composite national strength and international influence” by 2050.
5. The open letter argues that while Beijing is “seeking to weaken the role of Western democratic norms within the global order,” it is “not seeking to overturn vital economic and other components of that order from which China itself has benefited for decades.” The letter adds that the U.S. should encourage “Chinese participation in new or modified global regimes in which rising powers have a greater voice.”
It is unclear why the co-authors of the letter acknowledge that Beijing is weakening the role of Western democratic norms but do not state if the U.S. should do anything about this. Is it fine then to allow CCP authoritarian norms to play a stronger role within the global order?
The claim that the CCP is not seeking to overturn economic and other components of the global order does not stack with reality. For example, the Chinese communist regime’s Belt and Road Initiative, debt trap diplomacy, efforts to internationalize the renminbi, unfair trading practices, and stealing of Taiwan’s allies are clear attempts to subvert the existing world order.
We find most bizarre the letter’s recommendation that America should encourage the Chinese communist regime to join “new or modified global regimes” to give it a “greater voice.” Why should the U.S. knowingly help the Chinese communist regime gain more prominence and fracture the current world order? What the letter advocates is akin to inviting a bandit into one’s house and allowing him to burglar more and more parts of the house in hopes that the bandit will not one day decide to make away with everything.
6. The open letter said that “the best way to respond to” the Chinese communist regime’s “goal of becoming a world-class military by mid-century” is to “not to engage in an open-ended arms race centered on offensive, deep-strike weapons and the virtually impossible goal of reasserting full-spectrum U.S. dominance up to China’s borders.”
To this, we would like to offer President Ronald Reagan’s March 8, 1983 speech: “So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride—the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.”
We believe that the current Sino-U.S. conflict is not just a trade war or a tech war, but a critical battle of ideology, value systems, and morality.
7. We believe that the Trump administration’s strategies against the Chinese communist regime have created the conditions to bring about tremendous positive change in China for the Chinese people, the U.S., and the world. However, the administration could be holding back from applying maximum pressure to give Xi Jinping another chance to prove that he can make structural reforms. Also, the administration might have less than ideal solutions to mitigate the fallout of a successful pressure campaign. As the open letter noted, “the United States cannot significantly slow China’s rise without damaging itself.”
We do not believe that the Communist Party will allow Xi to carry out the structural reforms that the U.S. is requesting. But the U.S. can implement novel solutions, such as targeting the CCP’s worst human rights abuses and showing appreciation for authentic Chinese culture, alongside current strategies to compel Xi to consign the regime to the ash heap of history.
Don Tse is the co-founder and lead researcher at SinoInsider
Chu-cheng Ming is a senior researcher at SinoInsider
Larry Ong is a senior analyst at SinoInsider
 To the best of our knowledge, no individual or group has a better forecasting record than SinoInsider for personnel movements or political developments in the Chinese communist regime. Our track record includes:
- Forecasting the 19th Party Congress and 2018 Two Sessions personnel reshuffles with a high degree of accuracy;
- Predicting that Xi Jinping would not appoint a successor;
- Predicting that Chen Min’er and Hu Chunhua would not make the Politburo Standing Committee;
- Predicting the appointment of Wang Qishan to the vice presidency;
- Predicting the person, rank, and portfolio of all four vice premiers.
Before founding SinoInsider, our experts predicted that Xi Jinping would launch an anti-corruption campaign and the downfall of “untouchable” CCP cadres like Bo Xilai, Zhou Yongkang, Ling Jihua, Xu Caihou, and Guo Boxiong.